A deeper look at Russian cuisine

Sean Korsgaard

Despite many Russian dishes not being widely known outside the Russian countries, as you’d expect of a nation that spanned three continents and nine time zones, Russian food claims a variety of influences, ranging from French high cuisine to Chinese soup dumplings.

Some highlights include:

Olivier salad: Often known as Russian salad in the United States, it is a cold dish like potato salad, made with diced chunks of chicken or ham, boiled eggs, potatoes, pickles and often swimming with Mayonnaise.

Shashliki and plov – otherwise known as Kebabs and pilaf, are a staple of both street food and multicourse meals, with one important distinction from the Middle Eastern kebabs, in that they are often made of pork, and are usually exclusively made of the cured meats, not a veggie to be seen.

Borscht, perhaps the food most identified with Russia worldwide, originated in Ukraine. Served either hot or cold, it is a heart beet stew (similar in many ways to minestrone) that, in addition to beets, often contains beef broth, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, dill, and is served with a dollop of sour cream.

Dumplings of varying sorts are another mainstay. The two dominant kinds are the Ukrainian Varenyky, which can be filled with everything ranging from various meats, cheeses, vegetable or even fruit fillings, or the Russian Pelmeni, which are almost exclusively filled with minced meat. The former are similar to the Polish pierogi, the latter to Chinese dim sum.

-Caucasian dishes occupy a space in Russian food similar to that of Mexican or Italian food in America, offering a mixture of the exotic and the familiar to the dinner menu – dishes include cheesy bread called khachapouri, that has several varieties, and basturma, a cured meat that Russian immigrants brought to the United States, where it became known as pastrami.

-Like Scandinavia or the Baltic countries, smoked fish are a staple, with an important distinction being that they are served alongside bread, never on top of it. One of the more famous Russian seafood delicacies is of course, caviar, of which Russia boasts some of the world’s finest, yet unlike in the United States, it is not considered a delicacy.

-Dark rye bread is a staple of many Russian meals, as are various berries and honey.

-Most meals are accompanied by hot tea, served from a samovar, or depending on the company, vodka.

The bad news is, outside of places like Washington DC or New York City, Russian restaurants are a rarity.

The good news is, thanks to a large Russo-Ukrainian immigrant community, Richmond has a large number of Russian groceries that let you make your own dishes, and some even make them for you. One hopes given the chance, whether it be a bowl of borscht, or a plate of pelmeni, you’ll find the taste of Russia one much to your liking.

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